MONTREAL – For the second time in the past year, an anticoagulant failed to show superiority when it was compared with aspirin for preventing a second stroke in patients who had had an index embolic stroke of undetermined source (ESUS). But the most recent results gave a tantalizing suggestion that the anticoagulant approach might be effective for older patients, those at least 75 years old, possibly because these patients have the highest incidence of atrial fibrillation.
“The fact that we saw a treatment benefit in patients 75 and older [in a post hoc, subgroup analysis] means that development of atrial fibrillation (AF) is probably the most important factor,”, said at the World Stroke Congress. Another clue that incident AF drove a treatment benefit hidden in the new trial’s overall neutral result was that a post hoc, landmark analysis showed that, while the rate of second strokes was identical during the first year of follow-up in patients on either aspirin or the anticoagulant dabigatran (Pradaxa) after an index ESUS, patients on dabigatran had significantly fewer second strokes during subsequent follow-up.
More follow-up time was needed to see a benefit from anticoagulation because “it takes time for AF to develop, and then once a patient has AF, it takes time for a stroke to occur,” explained Dr. Diener, professor of neurology at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Essen, Germany.
The(Dabigatran Etexilate for Secondary Stroke Prevention in Patients With Embolic Stroke of Undetermined Source) trial randomized 5,390 patients at more than 500 sites in 41 countries, including the United States, within 6 months of an index ESUS who had no history of AF and no severe renal impairment. All enrollees had to have less than 6 minutes of AF episodes during at least 20 hours of cardiac monitoring, and they had to be free of flow-limiting stenoses (50% or more) in arteries supplying their stroke region. Patients received either 150 mg or 110 mg of dabigatran twice daily depending on their age and renal function or 100 mg of aspirin daily. About a quarter of patients randomized to dabigatran received the lower dosage. The enrolled patients averaged 66 years old, almost two-thirds were men, and they started treatment a median of 44 days after their index stroke.
During a median 19 months’ follow-up, the incidence of a second stroke of any type was 4.1%/year among the patients on dabigatran and 4.8%/year among those on aspirin, a difference that was not statistically significant. However, the post hoc landmark analysis showed a significant reduction in second strokes with dabigatran treatment after the first year. In addition, a post hoc subgroup analysis showed that, among patients aged at least 75 years old, treatment with dabigatran linked with a statistically significant 37% reduction in second strokes, compared with treatment with aspirin, Dr. Diener reported.
The primary safety endpoint was major bleeds, asby the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis, which occurred in 1.7%/year of patients on dabigatran and 1.4%/year of those on aspirin, a difference that was not statistically significant. Patients on dabigatran had a significant excess of major bleeds combined with clinically significant nonmajor bleeds: 3.3%/year versus 2.3%/year among those on aspirin.
A little over 4 months before Dr. Diener’s report, a separate research group published primary results from the(Rivaroxaban Versus Aspirin in Secondary Prevention of Stroke and Prevention of Systemic Embolism in Patients With Recent Embolic Stroke of Undetermined Source) trial, which compared the anticoagulant rivaroxaban (Xarelto) with aspirin for prevention of a second stroke in 7,213 ESUS patients. The results showed no significant efficacy difference between rivaroxaban and aspirin ( ).
RE-SPECT ESUS was funded by Boehringer Ingelheim, the company that markets dabigatran (Pradaxa). Dr. Diener has been a consultant to and has received research funding from Boehringer Ingelheim, as well as several other companies.
SOURCE: Diener H-C et al. Int J Stroke. 2018;13(2_suppl):27. .